Santana set to return as Mets open against Braves

By Mike Fitzpatrick

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 4 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Prior to the game, the Mets will honor former star Gary Carter with a ceremony and a moment of silence. Carter's family will take part in the tribute and throw out the first pitch. The Hall of Fame catcher, who helped lead the Mets to their most recent championship in 1986, died Feb. 16 at age 57.

While the Braves begin the season with a couple of key injuries, the Mets are mostly healthy for a change as they celebrate their 50th anniversary. Wright overcame a torn rib-cage muscle early in spring training, new center fielder and leadoff man Andres Torres shook off a calf injury and lefty specialist Tim Byrdak returned quickly from knee surgery.

Cleanup hitter Ike Davis shows no ill effects after being diagnosed with a likely case of valley fever, though the team has said he will get regular rest to avoid extreme fatigue. The first baseman missed most of 2011 with an ankle injury.

New York pared nearly $50 million off last year's payroll, one of baseball's biggest drops in a single offseason, but there was good news last month when ownership settled a lawsuit by the trustee seeking money for the victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme for up to $162 million.

The agreement finally provided some financial certainty for a club looking to build toward the future. Reyes, of course, won't be a part of it after the NL batting champion left for a $106 million, six-year deal with the division-rival Marlins in the offseason, leaving 22-year-old Ruben Tejada with big shoes to fill at shortstop.

Even after overhauling the back of a dreadful bullpen, the Mets are expected to finish last in the highly competitive NL East. Still, there's reason for optimism on opening day.

New York is 32-18 in season openers, the best winning percentage (.640) in baseball history — and that's after losing its first eight. Santana is 4-1 in five opening-day starts.

"We're a different team with him taking the mound every fifth day," Wright said. "He's a true ace, a guy that just finds ways to win. Other people feed off that, so not only what he does on the mound but also what he means to this clubhouse emotionally is a big lift for us."

Associated Press Writer George Henry in Atlanta and AP freelance writers Laurel Pfahler and Bill Whitehead in Port St. Lucie, Fla., contributed to this report.

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